There’s something about the day after Thanksgiving that I sigh one of those big, collective sighs. Maybe it’s because hosting Colby’s large and boisterous family for Thanksgiving is over. Yes, as an introvert, I’m sure that’s it. But maybe it’s that I spend the day first on the couch, doing all my Christmas shopping from my laptop. And then, I shop for and set up our annual advent calendar for our family. Just in time to kick it off on December 1st. So today I’m sharing our advent calendar tradition with you, along with all the brilliant and out-there advent calendar filler ideas I’ve ever had or tried.
If you want to see more details of our advent calendar for this Christmas season and skip all the filler ideas, just scroll down to the bottom of the post. It’s there, I swear.
To Theme Or Not To Theme
To theme or not to theme your advent calendar this holiday season, that is the question. While I do love a good theme (sign me up for 90s night bowling or to help with a “Wild One” birthday party), advent calendars don’t need to be themed. I don’t even theme my advent calendar and I’m a big supporter of themes.
While I am listing all the advent calendar ideas below by theme, which is a fun way to do an advent calendar especially if you mix it up each year, don’t feel married to it. Find your own unique way to create an advent calendar and start a fun tradition your whole family will enjoy.
Advent Calendar Filler Ideas By Theme
Now let’s cruise through below for all kinds of perfect advent calendar fillers. From toiletries to treats, crafts, and activities. There are lots of ideas to help you come up with the perfect advent calendar filler idea this season.
Sweet Treats Advent Calendar
When I think of filling an empty advent calendar, my first thought is always about yummy treats. I’m sure my children would love it! You just can’t go wrong with filling an advent calendar with candies, chocolates, or your own treats made with love. Favorite treats include:
- Candy Canes
- Tiny Chocolates
- Kinder Eggs
- Chocolate Bars
- Ribbon Candy
- Red Hots
- Maple Candy
- Fancy Popcorn
- Rock Candy
- Peanut Butter Cups
- And more
A great way to stretch a budget for reusable advent calendars filled with sweet treats, shop for bulk treats. We have a few markets near us, like F.H. Gillingham & Sons in Woodstock and our local co-op, that offer candy in bulk. I can grab just a few gummy worms or peppermint candies in a bag for under a dollar. It’s the perfect way to get a variety of candies without spending a ton of money.
You can also mix in a yummy treat or two that isn’t candy. Decant fancy maple or caramel popcorn into little bags. Or wrap a single candy bar for the family to share. Find ways to stretch something so it isn’t too much sugar or too much money.
Small Gifts Advent Calendar Ideas
There are so many directions you can take a small gifts advent calendar. Sometimes, on Christmas day small toys or gifts can get overshadowed by the big, flashier toys and gifts. Young kids in particular can get overwhelmed on Christmas morning. Break up the joy and take some of the small items you would give and break them down for an advent calendar.
For example, instead of giving a pack of bath toys or Bluey figures as a gift, split the toy set up and give one piece of the gift each day of the Christmas season as part of an advent calendar. Bluey and Bingo feel so much more special as little gifts before Christmas and don’t compete with that new bike.
Some favorite tiny toys and small gift ideas include:
- Action Figures
- Bath Toys
- Matchbox Cars
- Magnetic Letters
- Farm Animals (and gift a barn as a Christmas gift)
- Lego People
- Crystals or Rocks
- Finger Puppets
- Play Food
- And More
Hitting up your local dollar store and Target dollar spot is a great place to cruise and look for different things to fill your small gifts advent calendar.
Our oldest daughter, who is currently six, would go nuts for small figurines like Paw Patrol characters in the advent calendar. Just wrap them individually or take a shortcut and put them in small linen bags before adding them to your advent calendar.
Daily Activities Calendar Ideas
Instead of stuff, since kids don’t need a lot of stuff or candies, fill an advent calendar with activities. Write activities on slips of paper and tuck them inside your advent calendar. It’s the perfect opportunity to add a little more quality time to a busy holiday season.
Some favorite advent calendar and Christmas activities include:
- Winter Walk
- Look at Christmas Lights
- Light Parade
- Watch a Christmas Movie
- Make a Snowman
- Hang Outdoor Lights
- Write a Letter to Santa
- Sip Hot Cocoa
- Bake Cookies
- Decorate Cookies
- Decorate a Gingerbread House
- Look at Old Christmas Photos
- Read Christmas Books Together
- Snuggle Under Blankets
- Make Christmas Cards
- Make Paper Chains
- Make Paper Snowflakes
- Take Treats to Neighbors
- Christmas Dance Party
- Donate Toys
- Make Popcorn Garlands
- Decorate Wrapping Paper
- Write Christmas Letters
- Visit Santa
- Visit Reindeer
- Make Ornaments
- Put Together a Puzzle
- Play a Game
- Ice Skating
- And More
Pick activities that your family will love and are appropriate for the age group involved. Also, factor in energy levels and availability on your calendar so you don’t overschedule yourself. There is no shame in putting low-energy activities in your advent calendar, like “Read Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in your calendar for Thursday nights when you’re fried.
Beauty Advent Calendar Ideas
Who doesn’t love to feel a little pampered and cared for during the holidays? Treat your loved ones with beauty and self care items in their advent calendar.
For beauty advent calendars, adding in toiletries would also work. Just think of all those small things you can pick up at the Sephora sample section or in the travel toiletries area. Endless options!
But here are a few fun things to include in a beauty and toiletries advent calendar.
- Lip Balm
- Bath Bombs
- Hair Ties
- Face Masks
- Bubble Bath
- Mini Toiletries
- Nail Polish
- Essential Oils
- Perfume Samples
- And Other Beauty Products
I can see this type of advent calendar being super fun for when college kids are home. It’s that time of year to spoil them and what a simple way (and practical way) to do it.
Gift Cards Advent Calendar Ideas
This could be a fun surprise for older kids and teenagers, although it might be an extra cost since most gift cards start at $10.
Some gift card ideas:
- Coffee Shops
- Grocery Stores
- Local Shops
- Clothing Stores
- Beauty Stores
- Movie Theatres
- Other Activities
Christmas Jokes Advent Calendar Ideas
Break out those Dad jokes and turn them into an advent calendar. Such a special calendar to fill with all kinds of jokes.
Write down 25 jokes on individual slips of paper and tuck them into the advent calendar. Cover all areas of joking or you could even theme the jokes like dad jokes, chicken crossing the road jokes, and other themes that aren’t appropriate for this blog. Go wild jokesters!
If you need joke inspiration, we got Colby this Dad jokes book for Father’s Day a few years ago and it slays us. Nothing short of snort laughing.
Craft Supplies Advent Calendar Ideas
For the crafty family, why not create an advent calendar filled with all kinds of craft supplies?! I almost did this one for our children this year since pretty much all of our craft supplies are at dangerously low levels.
Many of these things are items I would give to our children on a random Tuesday when they run low so why not add in as much fun as we can by giving the supplies to them in advent calendar form?!
Some craft supply ideas:
- Crayons, Markers, and Colored Pencils
- Pom poms
- Paint Brushes
- Gel Pens
- Pipe Cleaners
- Wooden Shapes
- Puffy Paint
- Fabric Paint
- Embroidery Floss
- Washi Tape
- And More
Temporary Tattoos Advent Calendar Ideas
What a unique idea to fill an entire advent calendar with temporary tattoos?! When our daughter was four or five she would have been over the moon for this.
Find a collection of temporary tattoos that fit your family’s interests and fill up spots in the advent calendar with them.
Hot Chocolate or Tea Advent Calendar Ideas
Someone once gave me a tea advent calendar and as a tea enthusiast, it was the best! I got to try so many different types of teas without having to buy a whole box to see if I liked it. So many new favorites were discovered.
This time of year, there is no shortage of tea and hot chocolate variety or sampler packs. Pick up a few and make a beverage advent calendar for your family, depending on if they are tea or hot cocoa fans.
Ornament Advent Calendar Ideas
Ornament advent calendars can be so fun. Whether you put the same ornaments in the advent calendar each year or mix it up and put new ornaments in there, it’s fun to decorate a Christmas tree slowly throughout the season as part of a Christmas countdown calendar.
One year we did an ornament advent calendar. I filled the calendar with one Swedish or Scandinavian ornament a day and we had a tiny pine tree from our meadow that we decorated with the ornaments. This was when our oldest wasn’t even one and didn’t understand the concept of an advent calendar. It was fun to hang the ornaments together as a family and was a simple way to celebrate Christmas time with family members.
Lego Advent Calendar Ideas
I know Lego advent calendars already come pre-made, but how fun to pick up small kits, or break down a bigger kit, into a Lego advent calendar for the Lego enthusiasts in your life?!
This might be my favorite of the pre-made advent calendars. It’s not just giving stuff but also an activity, building Lego pieces together once a day. Maybe next year my oldest will be into doing something like this with me.
Seed Packet Advent Calendar Ideas
In my dreams, my husband and children create the gardener’s ultimate advent calendar filled with packets of seeds. Wouldn’t that be dreamy?! I adore seed packets and growing my own vegetables. For the gardener in your life, especially one who likes to experiment with new plant varieties, break out the Johnny’s Seeds catalog and pick out some seed packets.
Our Family’s Advent Calendar
Let me introduce you to the Campbell family advent calendar for 2023, one of the best advent calendars in my not-so-humble opinion.
The calendar is filled with ornaments, sweet treats, and Christmas activities for the family to do together. This mix of advent calendar filler ideas has been on repeat for a few years and it’s still a family favorite. First up, meet our advent calendar.
Our Reusable Advent Calendar
Each year just after Thanksgiving, I assess our Christmas decor and decide on a few pieces to add. Someday, I want a Hallmark Christmas-style house with the holidays dripping from every corner of our home. AND it will perpetually smell like Christmas cookies. I’ll get there, just over time.
The first Christmas with our eldest daughter, I knew I wanted an heirloom quality advent calendar to start using with her. I had long eyed this galvanized advent calendar from Pottery Barn and decided to pull the trigger when it went on sale for Black Friday that year. It’s such great quality, rugged, and holds the perfect amount of advent items. And in the words of my mother-in-law, “It goes with the house.”
I love how this advent calendar looks hanging over our vintage trunk-turned console table in the dining room. It hangs here pretty much every year. We don’t even take out the screws that hold it anymore.
PS…Please excuse my poor snake plant. Between pets and children, I’m not sure it’s going to make it!
Sadly they no longer sell this advent calendar. Maybe they’ll bring it back. But I feel like this style is something that could be DIYed with some barn boards and mini galvanized buckets.
Why We Use A Reusable Advent Calendar
I love the idea of using reusable advent calendars. We try to be a minimalist family as much as possible, being as intentional as we can with the things we buy and the time and attention we give. In general, we try to keep the waste to a minimum although it’s super hard. I love that we can reuse this advent calendar year after year.
Using the same advent calendar every year helps it become a family heirloom piece oozing with tradition and memories. Hopefully, we will pass it down to our children one day for them to use with their families to carry on the family tradition.
Favorite Advent Calendar Fillers
This advent calendar is filled with a mix of activities, sweet treats, and ornaments. Doing just one type of advent calendar wasn’t for me or our family. We like the variety. Doing all activities or all treats just felt too overwhelming.
I pick a few Christmas activities that we want to do as a family each year, write them on slips of paper, and tuck them into a small craft paper box that fits in our advent calendar. I always plan the activities ahead of time and write them in my planner so there is no “Surprise! We’re making a gingerbread house” situation. I also reuse the boxes and ribbons every year to reduce waste as well.
This year’s calendar includes activities like the Polar Express train ride, making a gingerbread house, reading Christmas books while sipping hot cocoa, watching Christmas movies, making cookies for Santa, and going to look at lights. Each year I do switch up our activities just a little bit.
For sweet treats, I pick up a couple of fancy Lake Champlain chocolate bars, wrap them, and tuck them in the calendar. A few boxes of maple candies also get this treatment. In the small, cloth goodie bags I added some gummy worms and gummy frogs from a local bulk candy store. Every member of our family, except moi, is obsessed with gummies. Sign me up for the maple candy!
Candy canes also made for a triumphant appearance this year. I’ve included them in years past but no one was interested in them. Then this year, Rowan sweetly gave her candy cane from the tree farm to Beatrix, who was begging for it. Ro was so sad about no longer having a candy cane. I promised to make it up to her with candy canes in the advent calendar.
The third type of advent calendar item we include is ornaments. I still have my collection of Swedish and Scandinavian ornaments from our first advent calendar. We carried on the tradition of cutting down a small pine tree from our meadow, putting it in a galvanized bucket, and decorating it with the collected ornaments.
Favorite Advent Calendar Supplies
When it comes to creating the advent calendar each year, I keep things super simple and coral all my advent calendar supplies in a small tote. My favorite supplies to keep on hand that I use year after year include:
It’s everything I need to quickly and easily put together the advent calendar each year. I even keep the same ribbons and reuse them year after year.
Pssst…So now that I’ve shared our family advent calendar and unloaded all my advent calendar filler ideas, what are your favorite things to fill an advent calendar with? Or any other advent calendar fun ideas to get into the Christmas spirit? Do share and I’ll add them to the list.